War Diary: For Nana

Nana must have been on her mid or late-sixties then. She had not gone to any government school, neither finished any home-education on Qur’an but she knew how to read the Jawi, indigenous script of Sulu, with Arabic derivative. I was nine and just about to finish my fourth elementary grade in a barangay school when the war broke out in Jolo on February 7, 1974. That horrible occasion brought us, murid and guru – student and teacher – together.

After Jolo burned to the ground, my father had his hands full raising up eight children. The eldest being barely 20 and the youngest 2 years old, his lowly teacher’s salary of two hundred pesos per month could not possibly provide us with decent meals and clothes, much less ensure our schooling. Being girls and the middle children, I and my elder sister, Nur, were “loaned-out” to relatives, so we could continue with our studies in Jolo. Sister was taken in by my cousin to be yaya to her toddler son, while I was to stay with my aunt to help in her store.

I met Nana at the store. She was a distant relative of my aunt’s husband.  Having no family of her own, she too was on a ‘placement’, just like me.   This  arrangement was usual with families who had been pulak-kanat , disenfranchised and ‘dismembered’ by the conflict. Our main duties were to tend to the store, although on some occasions we were also cooks, laundry-women and errand-girls. During school days, I  attended elementary school, walking some two kilometers each day. On weekends I would spend an hour in the morning sitting-in at the local Masjid (mosque) where a madrasa (Islamic instruction) had just started. But of course the store was to be my priority such that my attendance at the madrasa had to be regulated, much to my dismay.

There were times, especially, at dusk when I would sit forlorn by my high-chair lookout from the store, and envied children of my age who freely played siyatung (stick-relay), magbalatin (patintero) or tapuk-tapuk (hide-and-seek); and on Ramadhan nights, proudly accompanied their elders to Tarawee prayers. But I was not to have such privileges. On some nights, Nana, seeing my predicament would give me a pat at the back and commanded me to run off and play a turn each of tapuk-tapuk or magbalatin, then advised me to be back before maghrib (evening prayer).

Come weekends, there were perpetual debates whether I could go to madrasa or not. My aunt’s advice would almost always prevail: the store was to be my priority. But whenever she could have her way, Nana would help me out. As soon as she had finished her morning ritual of soaking her hair in a concoction of coconut milk and lemon juice, she would breeze into the store and shoo me away to quickly grab my turong and speed off to the madrasa, which gave me much delight as I love to learn new songs in Arabic. One particular piece still lingers in my head to this day, it was to welcome the Hijrah new year, called Mauludin Jadid, that we heartily sang to the tune of President Marcos’s ‘Ang Bagong Lipunan’ hymn. Because those opportunities were rare, I relished my lessons. In only one sitting, I memorized the song of praise for the Nabi Muhammad – God’s peace and blessings on him – in Arabic and Tausug, that we had sang on the occasion of the Ascension of the Prophet to Heaven, Isra wal Mi’raj. My enthusiasm impressed my lady guru so much, so that, in a month, I was given the most coveted task of writing the Bismillahi rahman ir rahim   (In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful), in my cursive Arabic, on the blackboard. I was beaming with pride on the day I was finally able to recite the Al fatihah and a du’a (grace) before meals.

I suspect even kind-hearted Nana had her own personal motives for sending me off to madrasa. She knew the essentials or rukun of Islamic shalat (prayer), but she was not very confident with her Arabic incantations. Each night, before we’d retire to bed, she would ask me to write the dua’ sambahayang in Jawi. I would first read the du’a in its English transliteration from a battered prayer book.   Mustering my newly acquired writing skill from my sporadic training, I would then translate it as best as I could, roughly writing every word as pronounced and syllabicated, in Arabic-lettered Jawi.   Its thick chalky curls seemed to pop-out and float in contrast to the dark mahogany grain of the back of an old wooden chest that separated our sleeping quarter to that of the main store area.

On summers, I went home to my family who had evacuated and ‘temporarily settled’ in Christian-populated city of Zamboanga, and so I missed many of the madrasa classes. I spent two more years with my aunt in Jolo, graduating from the third elementary school I attended.   Sadly, I did not get to finish my 1st grade in the madrasa. When time came and I had to leave Jolo, my madrasa, and Nana, I was already skilled in writing the Jawi and could read passages from the Qur’an, slowly, by merely looking at familiar words and symbols, as though looking at visuals and images rather than at letters or syllables.   This enabled me to remember the ayahs (verses) by heart. For her part, I knew Nana had prospered from that little literacy class at the back of my aunt’s aparador.   She memorized some of the lengthy but important prayers: the Tashahuud, Ishtigfaar, Qunut and Ayatul Qursi. More than three decades had passed, and, today, I am still practicing my jawi,  for my unlettered friends. On dictation, I write their letters to Saudi, the UAE, Malaysia, and to loved ones overseas, as I did before, for Nana.

July 19, 2007

Mucha Arquiza

WAR DIARY: Of shells and tanks

School Take-home Project: A War Diary

Today, I am working on a long-due school project, started in 1974 but was never finished. It is to be a diary of my life as an elementary grade school pupil. As a Martial Law baby, to chronicle my generation’s witnessing the crests and falls in the almost four decades of Mindanao conflict, this diary begins with memoirs of the 1970’s, spent in turbulent childhood in Jolo, Sulu.

Circa 1970. Free ticket to live movies

I was one tiny first grader in a barangay elementary school in Jolo town, when the  Moro National Liberation front (MNLF), or more popularly known to us as aktibis and mawis had become very active in 1971. On some afternoons, my classmates and I would walk home from school and would be caught in the cross-fires between AFP and the aktibis. We would then scamper for cover under the fish vendors’ lean-to stalls because the rich Chinese merchants inside the big stores and glass-walled shops had shooed us away and hastily locked themselves in the safety of heavy metal gates, leaving us children out. Under the wet and slimy wooden fish-table, I would be watching the street-fight, as one would a Fernando Poe starrer.

My memories of the MNLF fighters were usually of young men, just about the age of my eldest teenaged brother, sporting long hair not too different from my brother’s own hippie-inspired locks, except that their’s would not be of rustic guitar but armalites, Thompson and AK 47s slang proudly across their shoulders. The grenade launchers and bandolier heavy with rounds of ammos were cris-crossed and strapped to their chests. Unlike my brother’s hippies, they did not croon like Elvis or the Beatles but chanted a slogan: Hulah, Bangsa iban Agama! (Homeland, people and God) and the chorus of Allahu Akbar! (God is Great). As they exchanged volleys of fire with their enemies, they would stand, not crouch. Suicidal as it looked to me, they held their head up high as they rushed and hacked to finish off a gasping Philippine Army soldier with their glinting barung (bladed weapon) and bolo, afterwards, seeking no cover nor shield, just as valiantly fell down chanting their battlecries as they breathed their last.

This ordinary street scene I have witnessed, and more of details of the horrible war had been stored in my mental war-diary.

November, 1973. The Sikatunas

Down the languid streets of Jolo, the military armored personnel carrier or amphibian tanks were a common sight. We called them the Sikatuna (I am not sure how it got such nice nick). Their slow rolling movement also got them baptised as kagang-kagang, or crabs. The tanks would prowl around town practically all day on almost every day, creating so much impact in the minds of children, that they had become associated with evacuation and death. How we dreaded meeting tanks on the road on our way to school, and always avoided crossing paths with it, for doing so was sort of a bad-luck. Our dread was so strong in much the same way as to avoid meeting hearst on a black limo in the streets today.

The Sikatuna’s heavy chained wheels dented deep and ugly claw-marks into the soft but smoothened asphalt road in front of our school-house. It dug into the padded dirt-road and churned out sticky alkitran, on its wake leaving behind a trail of rocks and rubbish that emitted out a putrid smell of gas and toxin that prevented us from playing balatin (patintero), tumba-lata, bending and all other street-games usually played after school. I’m sure, the same ‘claws’ have also wounded and forever left ugly scars in the hearts and minds of young ones in Sulu, like myself. Many times, these metal monsters had lead a victory joy-ride to show-off the military’s recent hauls from the gimba (jungle), and like trophies, the AFP would parade wounded MNLF or cadavers of insurgents around. Some of the captured aktibis looked battle-weary and haggard, but the military took much delight in embarrassing the famous Tausug pride as, all hog-tied and chained, placards hanging from their neck where written in red bold letters, they were branded as “thieves, bandits and murderers”. But the smoldering fire in their glinting unrelenting eyes—defied the unconquered spirit within – those had been haunting.

December 1973. A Postponed Christmas

It was in January of 1974 when we returned back to school without the usual enthusiasm since previously, we had to let December fly away without having a class Christmas party. I felt very bad about that since I already had my gifts wrapped, with the usual stuff that my Papa would painstakingly prepare: the roasted peanuts in their shells, 2 laranghita oranges, 10 bubble gums called ‘Tarzan’, 10 caramel candies and two packs of biscuits and a one-peso bill. My baon for the Christmas party had also been readied consisting of 8- ounce bottle of warm Coca Cola (as refrigerators were rare in those days and we had not heard of “ice”), biscuits and some sweets and the peanuts and oranges to go. There were four of us schooling kids in the house and each of us would have the same presents for our manitas and manitos at school. All were to take the same baon  to our respective parties. That year, as the lowest grader in the family, I had the misfortune of having been assigned with my younger brother who was not yet in school. I was to take him to my class party, complete with his own provisions neatly wrapped days before the party. We would lovingly look at our presents and caress our baon before turning in to bed and longingly count the days before the manita-manita and the Christmas party. But, as would be ill-fated, December finally came, school was called off and parties were cancelled, and so we ate our baon and unwrapped our presents during the New Year’s eve at home.

So that, that January, to be back in school had not been as exciting and in fact had rather been tensed. On the first day in school, at about half past eleven in the morning, very close to lunch time and our class dismissal we were jolted by a loud explosion. Everyone rushed out of the classrooms and we were aghast to see blood and mangled pieces of flesh of what used to be children’s bodies scattered all over and around the playground area. Apparently, two “visitors” (Grade 0 pupils) were waiting by the stone bench for the afternoon shift when a landmine planted on that bench went off. So for another week, we had to stay home, bored and missing school very much especially as I had started loving my new student-teacher, Miss Manga, who had taught us a new song titled “The First of May”.

January 1974. Napalm Bomb ruins Hawaiian Dance

January was supposed to be a festive month, as we were celebrating the Isra wal Mi’raj (i.e. Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven), one of the Muslim holidays. Schools always celebrated auspicious occasion like this with big parades, the main attraction of which were us, the school children, in our smartest best of stiff jumper uniforms and crisp white blouses, complete with our small caps, one that popes were seen to wear. In sleepy towns like Jolo, inter-school parades were about one of the most exciting and awaited events by the townsfolk. Parents and teachers would go out of their way preparing and decking their kids up to the point of madness. In my school, I was among the few selected pupils who were to wear Hawaiian costumes. I remembered crying all night when my mother, who just came back from the islands after some months having not seen or visited us, and she was so upset that my two other sisters and I had been infested with kuto or head-lice and all sorts of parasites in our scalps. ‘It is the curse of napambam’, we’d often hear adults argue in whispers, when we had our usual baths at the common tap.

The napalm bombs were routinely dropped from droning planes, hiding in the cloak of darkness. One famous young soldier last-named Honasan on command by an officer, a certain lite colonel Fidel Ramos, allegedly unleashed one such terror. Its poisonous fall-out had caused children to develop lung problems and scabies, oozing boils and dreadful skin and scalp infections, so the flies grazed and laid their larvae and the parasites thrived in our heads. My old aunty used to treat us with her traditional concoction of coconut milk and yellow ginger. Rubbed into our hair and scalps, that felt really cool and refreshing, not to mention yummy to the taste. Later, she learned from the other women in the water-hole to add a pinch of the deadly white powder, she knew only as DDT, that health officials usually sprayed to quell out the malaria epidemic that was killing infants and very old people. The DDT mixed into her herbal medication, she rubbed into our infected arms and scalps. And so that night, my mother, always the impatient and tactless one, took out her dressmaker’s scissors and furiously cut off our hair. Had she had her way she would have not left a stump standing on my head, but my father upon seeing our despair, stopped her rampage, reasoning that we would not want to be seen at school on baldheads. You see, my long black hair had its own history too. I had waited for months and even years for it to reach my buttocks. Hawaiian dance was the current craze of that time and young girls with long hair at school were always chosen to give a dance number and proudly became  hoola girls during school convocations. I had always died to be one of them, tired of having to represent only in quiz shows or be the emcee but never picked out in the dance numbers or to be among the performers to be prompted up the stage. So I cried the hell out all night because I would not want to lose that long hair to one snip especially since I could not contemplate having to wear the long moomoo (Hawaiian) gown now with a short bobbing hair — notwithstanding the beautiful flip it gave my natural curls ala Susan Rocess, as my aunt wowed– the outfit just did not match with the hair!

So to console me, my Papa brought all of us three girls to the Plaza Rizal early the following morning and had our pictures taken by his old Nikon. And then treated us to a plate of pancit at the Plaza Panciteria. All puffy-eyed and runny-nosed, I had to wear the moomoo to this shooting, complete with the drooping big double-petaled red gumamela tucked to one ear. I was instructed to smile but had growled at the camera instead. The war proved to be a blessing in disguise for my murdered ego as the school parade, and all other school activities for the coming months, were called-off because of the sporadic street fighting. That had been the first and last time I wore my beautiful moomoo before it went to ashes with the rest of our house along Asturias street.

Fast-forward to the New Millenium.

To date, the 1970s generation of evacuees in Zamboanga City are still considered as displaced communities. The war from 1970-1979 alone rendered close to one million perished with about a million became internally displaced persons (IDP) with half of them still in Sabah in North-eastern Borneo as illegal and undocumented migrants. More than three decades after in 2007, hundreds of thousands of us remain stranded as evacuees, perpetually in limbo, still in search of the homeland. We have become squatters and un-welcomed migrants in other parts of Zamboanga peninsula and the Mindanao mainland.

Three waves of Paguy in three decades of war


It was on February 7, 1974 when the town of Jolo was burned to the ground. The military blamed the MNLF for the “siege of Jolo”. The MNLF blamed the AFP for their retaliatory aerial strikes and sea-to-land bombings that included the destructive napalm bombing. For almost two weeks on end there was ceaseless gunfire and burning of houses. At the height of conflict, my Auntie was able to evacuate my two younger brothers, my elder sister and myself, and we fled to safety in Zamboanga City. We were separated from Papa on whose care were my three other siblings who fled to the hinterlands of Indanan in Sulu. For days and nights on, Papa, with our youngest an infant of barely a year old, in tow, had to live in with the MNLF aktibis in the jungle, subsisting on cassava and carabao or horse’s meat. Lactating women who were among the paguy (evacuees) took turns in nursing my sister. They climbed mountains and crossed streams and had to go wherever the aktibis also fled as the military were pursuing them. Papa recalled to us later that, at one point, he got separated from the evacuees and found himself near the Spanish-built sentinel posts of Camp Asturias, where his brother, an Army master sergeant, a non-commissioned officer, owned a house. He had pleaded with the guards to let him and his three children pass through, but was grilled and interrogated for hours if he were a Muslim or a Christian, as he admitted being a Muslim, his small band was denied entry, so with my three siblings in tow they had to retrace their way back to the mountains and rejoined the MNLF camp.

Postscript. A Collage of shells from the sea, coconuts and  M-79

To commemorate this experience, I created a collage in remembrance of the Jolo war. In it are symbols of my most vivid memories of the war that included my new white rubber slippers that I lost when it got stuck in the mud while fleeing. Also, I remembered very well my dolls — cut-out from used clothes and paper — complete with the tiny wooden furniture that Papa built during his tenure as vocational education teacher at the Home Industry in the Office of the Ministry of Education and Culture (MECS). These things I left in one of the aunties’ houses where we had sought refuge. Thus, in latter years, I developed an obsession with cloth cut-out datu’-datu’ and paper dolls.

The collage also prominently displays some seashells and at the centerpiece is an empty mortar slug. The sea-shells were among the prized possessions that I and my younger brother, who is now an ECE Engineer in Abu Dhabi, had been collecting and about the only treasure we’d saved from the ravage of war. They were contained inside a shoulder bag curved out of big coconut shell, another one of the indigenous crafts created by my father as young shop-teacher at the local trade school. The sea-shells and coconut pouch created so much noise as it swung and hit my brother’s knees each step of the way, as we alternately ran and walked to the shelter called paksul, which, in adult year, I realized to mean ‘foxhole’. So like the kubing (foxes) we ran for dear life, but here was one child who could not permit that escape to happen quietly. This annoyed the neighbors and those who had tried to help us escape from military, that, at one point, the exasperated elders had to form a caucus that decided that we should leave behind the “noisy toys” if we wanted to be saved. But my kid brother, on cue from me, of course, cried a bucket and refused to part with our possessions. Finally, the elders grudgingly resigned to have us, kids and shells together, and silently suffered the noisy click-cluck as we trekked up to the mountains.

Mucha-Shim Q. Arquiza

July, 2007/Zamboanga City

NASHIZA SPEAKS: Bangsa babai, Babai sin bangsa

Sorry, this article is temporarily unavailable.Please read a related post on Bangsamoro women here:   https://houseinthesea.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/nashiza-speaks-peace-dividends-for-bangsamoro-women/

DeMISTYfied in Djogja: Turung and Women

The Turung and the early Melayu Muslim Sama women

…for my Inah, on her 79th birthday on April 14 2011.

My earliest and most vivid memories of my maternal great grand-aunts would be of three beloved matriarchs of Laminusa island of Sulu: Omboh Dindu’, Omboh Ua’, and Omboh Saning, who in the late 1960s upto early 1970s were then ushering into their ripe late mid-life age. These three sisters, my mother’s grand-aunts, would come to our home and spend some days with us as soon as my mother entered the onset of her last trimester of pregnancy. The great grand-aunts would be midwives and surrogate mothers to my three infant younger siblings until my mother had regained her health, gathered her strength and was back on her feet. While maintaining an embarrassed distance, I would always observe them in complete awe, these tiny dainty women like delicate china-dolls, who seldom raised their voices nor left their cloisters except for social functions and life-till-death ritual cycles that they would lead with confidence and dexterity, taking care to prescribe the right kind of food and the proper propitiations for both the living and the dead, satisfying the requirements in both the lair and batin worlds (i.e. seen and unseen worlds) in the specific rites and rituals of birthing, passage to pubescence, marriage and death. In the midst of their duties and social functions they were well disciplined and strong-willed and led the community firmly as a ship captain.

Before my young eyes, their elegance and nobility in the Chinese brocade silky loose pants knotted at the waist, called kantiyu, and the matching loose blouses made of Spanish lace or soft voile called sablay raised them above all esteem. Their tiny feet, that their mothers must have tried to impose into the pakkal , some sort of foot-binding sometime in their early age, were encased in delicate pairs of identical but different shades of sequined slippers still smelling of camphor and naphthalene, items that used to be supplied and carried by the junks that frequented our shores, journeying all the way from China, an endless odyssey and tales that my grandfather would love to tell us. These early Muslim women would often don a tube-like hand-woven silk cloth on top of their kantiyu and sablay, this piece of pakayan or walking garment was called ho’s tinahi-an, and was woven from silk thread imported from India. Otherwise, the ho’s would be of the highly-prized kain batik that, together with the particular brand of tea from Ceylon and the Lucky Strike and Dunhill filter-tipped cigarettes that my grandmother was famed to have fancied, and the air mata dhojong perfumes, a familiar scent that my mother wore to school, were smuggled in from Borneo and Indonesia. The Samarinda or Javanese batik, whose alleged tests of authenticity the women could  ascertain and I watched them literally ‘taste’ a genuine article by licking. The ho’s they wore as one would a shawl today, in such a fashionable way was called a saklay or salendang, it was casually draped over one shoulder, to the right, as both Omboh Dindu’ and Omboh Ua’ were once married and were now widowed while Omboh Saning would wear it on her left, announcing her then unmarried status.

On unusually warm and sunny days, while walking to the pasar (i.e. marketplace) or  strolling down the dirt roads after a visit to the ancestral tombs, the ho’s or tube cloth would be transformed from the shoulder sling into a bungkus, a body tent, spread-out with one end or upper seam of the cloth pulled higher and raised above the head like a canopy hoisted with the left arm slightly bent on the elbow, the cloth covered the arms, the head and hair, and left hanging loose over the right shoulder and arm that were left free and bare. The cloth thereby covered most of the women’s back and front, the pliant cloth hence let to fall over the bosom just above the knee. Thus was to be the earliest form of veiling or turong that these southeast Asian Melayu women would sport as part of the ensemble reserved for the formal public wear, mainly to ward off the bitter elements, rather than to discourage the male gaze as veiling is generally intended these days. When talking to distant acquaintances or strangers in the streets, married women would sometimes gather the left edge of the ho’s and gently pulled it across to graze the lower half of the face. Otherwise, when settled inside the house or within private spaces, the cloth was pulled back, wrapped around the waist or slipped under an armpit or slung to one shoulder as a shawl should go, and the women would freely socialize, with men and fellow women, their hair and face bright and lit – fully uncovered.

In the mid-70s I also got to meet more of my maternal grandaunts on the side of my Tausug grandfather. Omboh Assa and Omboh Ka’i, and the four cousins of my mother, Babuh Gim King, Babuh Gim Hong, Babuh Gim Sai, and Babuh Gim Hua. All these early Muslim women were ethnic Chinese and of mixed Sama-Tausug and Melayu descent from Bongao of Tawitawi, the farthest island southern tip of Sulu (i.e. ‘Moro’ was not yet popularly used as identity referent for Suluan ethnics then). They also wore the same kantiyu and sablay, but instead of the shoulder sash, Omboh Assa and her four daughters would wrap around their head, covering most of the hair and hugging a big bun tightly knotted at the nape but leaving both ears exposed, a long and narrow strip of transparent and soft lacy cloth, dyed a light patina or lungbus poteh, i.e. virginal white, sometimes embellished with tiny gems or gold dusts or sequins so much similar to present-day shawl, trailing from both ends were jazzed-up tussles, these were wound crosswise once or twice around the head just above the forehead and tucked in behind the ears. My curious queries were satisfied by my mother who informed me that Omboh Assa and one of her daughters had just came back from Makkah and were hadjas, hence, the cleverly made-up fashionable head-dresses. The hadja’s sulban (literally, head-scarf), as it was called, was worn all throughout the day whether in private or public spaces and was only shorn away on retirement to bed.

The only other time when women were required to cover their hair and face were during the five prayers, where they would wrap themselves in the white luku, a biased-cut piece of round cloth like a parachute with a hole at the pointed tip, just big enough for the face to pop out. The luku is worn as an outer garment on top of traditional clothing, it reached upto the calf or ankles covering the designated woman’s cleavages there as hidden parts or ‘aurat’ which were not supposed to be displayed during prayer. The white veil was a sign of purity and reflective of the cleanliness of our hearts and intention as we faced and communioned with the Great One, said my godmother, Inah Ka’ching – mother’s elder sister, who was also my guru or tutor in Qur’an and religious initiation. She never mentioned to me though that the luku or similar female veiling where to hide an atrocious and offensive sexuality that was lurking inside and within my body. I spent most of my childhood fetching water from the well or from a common tap; watching the earthen stove and making sure that the roasting fish or a dish in progress would not get burnt; tending her small shop or, practically the handy girl-Friday, running other petty errands for my guru from five to seven in the morning and from three to five in the afternoon for more than five years while I was at the same time multiple-tasking and doubling time inching to finish my basic public education, that is, in between fleeing from wars and living in evacuations. My guru released me when she decided that I was good enough and have mastered, meaning, read the entire 30 juz of the Holy Book without her coaching, whence she publicly confirmed me a ‘tammat’ (i.e. graduated); and that had been when I reached the age of puberty when I could now be qualified to publicly recite some verses during the tahalilan; adult and woman enough to properly mourn and honor the dead. My aunt who was my guru, then and until now in her old age, wore no head scarves except during her prayer yet she has never been regarded as less religious or diminished in faith and piety by the island youth who have graduated under her tutelage and prospered, as they continued to pay their respect to her.

My mother, named after the Trojan queen Helen, was in her mid-30s then, and as public school teacher, she wore her hair short and spent quite some time teasing it with a long narrow comb and sprayed it stiff with hairspray. Most of the lady teachers in the island who were her contemporary also wore their hair that way or sported longer permed cut that was the latest of hair-do and came to school in their cheerful balloon and pleated skirt that skimmed their calves, paired wit three-fourth sleeved and sport-collared eyelet cotton blouses, that they either tucked into the wide band of the skirt or sometimes knotted at the mid-rib; or smartly dressed in their mini-skirted one piece, an A-line that was called a ‘straight-cut’, that my mother herself cut and sewed for herself and her sister, that was popular among young professionals during the time. On special community gathering and ritual occasion, these educated ladies brought out their best sablay and kantiyu or donned the gleaming silk blouse called badjuh sigpit with matching ho’s bat-tik or tinahi-an or tinen-nun and the sequined slippers.

Those were the days when Muslim women were not questioned about their intentions or suspected of immodest motives in pampering themselves and spending time to take care of themselves or engaged in beauty rituals to improve their looks and increased their self-esteem. These young Muslim women, who had high level of education, were gainfully employed and equally bore the family burden with their husbands and brothers, in case they were single, and were treated with the same respect and honor by their peer, both men and women.

Those days, too, women in my village equally shared with men the langgal – our village prayer hall – literally meaning ‘a meeting place’ where people discussed things of communal importance – that was open to everyone seven days of the week, in all of five daily prayers, and especially during the Jama’at or Friday congregations and during special occasions of Eid that were the sambahayang Hari raya Puasa and Hari raya Hadji. Taking their places behind a thin white lace curtain separating them from men, women entered through a common entrance with men. On Ramadhan nights, after the Tarawi prayers I fondly remember planked by my mother and my father on either sides and guided on both hands, we joined in the merriment, as with the rest of the evenings around the year, women and men folk used to linger around after magribh and waited for ‘isha to be performed, and took that brief evening break as occasion to socialize. The women formed an outer circle to the men’s inner circle in the tahalil and dhikr before or after congregational prayers, and seated, we gently danced and swayed to the rhythm of a dabbana, a drum, while reciting the shahada, i.e. declaration of faith. Then, later after ‘isha was said, we, young children, kissed the perfumed hands of every adult that we could catch, that we always exclaimed and swore ‘smelt of Makkah!’ or some argued it was the ‘smell of paradise!’ and freely mingled with them to share in the light snacks and refreshments that village men and women who were not able to join in the prayers would prepare and offer to the langgal.

No one could exactly date it, but I believe, it was only in the late 1980s or the nineteen nineties when the male population in most Muslim societies, seeming to have awoken from a bad dream, started taking a backglance and spent longer and hard second doubtfilled looks and saw with different eyes their female counterpart and, apparently alarmed by what they saw, or rather, at how they ‘felt’ about what they saw, hastened their wives, mothers and sisters to cover themselves up in veils and to lurk behind dark and drab Arabian cloaks and oversized dresses. At about this time, too, the mass exodus of skilled labor to the Middle East have peaked so that pilgrimage to Makkah to perform the hajj was no longer the exclusive privilege of the elite and the rich. At this time, the conflict between government and Moro nationalists would have heightened, forcing many young men into the hills and jungles to join the insurgents or go into self-exile and to migrate to less troubled cities or seek education abroad, usually in Egypt or Saudi. Upon their return, these young men who have turned into Allah’s soldiers or trained to become moral policemen would introduce a new theology that put much emphasis on the recitation and memorization of the revealed texts and less and less value given to the embodied celebrations of faith and the acted and ritualized devotion and remembrances of Allah [i.e. dhikr] that the Sufi teachers taught the folk Muslims. Banning altogether indigenous ceremonies as bida’a (i.e. innovation), they declared the rituals in reverence of ancestors as idolatrous. The modern Muslim religious leaders then privileged the literate and the well-travelled. The old imams and fakirs whose unarticulated and non-scriptural discipline of mysticism and indigenised Arabic incantations that the new religious men would find faulty were forced to retire and, relegated to the margins, retreated to old chores and devoted full time to their crafts – the fish-traps and bush gardens. Later, even the old langgal, would not be spared by the ruthlessness of the new-found religious authority and self-righteousness. Uprooted and demolished, in the langgal’s takas (i.e. shadow) was constructed a newish religious architecture of Arabian inspired masjid, complete with the big minaret, the Madinese posts and the upraised mimbal (pulpit).  To a sleepy island, the new mosque that rose up literally over night came sneaking almost like a new conqueror in the dark cloak of night that folk called this monument of modernity as having ‘dropped from heavens’ or masjid jatu .

In the meantime, in most big prayer houses and grand mosques in the migrant lands and big cities, one would seldom find thin curtain that used to mark where women should sit behind the men and performed their prayers in full sight of everyone, as in the old village langgal, in its stead, a mezzanine or loft was built into the structure, or a wall was erected as division, where women would now have to face a solid wall there or a blank space, to keep them out of sight and to restrain these supposedly dangerous species who were now considered seductive and overpowering devils themselves, preying upon helpless and innocent pious men.

In the modern cities, where Qur’an and the hadith books were hungrily read and  its tafsir (i.e. meaning and interpretations) discussed, transmitted and shared around among the modern Muslim religious men, new regulations and ‘teachings’ spread and were imposed saying that it was better for women to stay at home and performed their prayers in the closed quarters of their rooms. Sayings and traditions [i.e. hadith wal sunnah] allegedly attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the beloved messenger who was also known as lover of women, of perfumes and of horses, and whom his young wife A’isha lovingly remembered his gentle moments swapping jokes and laughing with the women and thoughtfully advising them on sensitive issues such as taking care of their health, on their feminine hygiene and their fertility is alleged to have made a very chauvinistic and macho remark demeaning women, namely, that women were lacking in intellect and religion and would be the interns of hell. Others would say that the Prophet was heard uttering that Muslim community who entrusts its affairs to women were doomed to fail; and that woman, however faithful and pious, would not be able to fulfill her religious duties and gain the mercy of Allah and enter paradise unless she has fulfilled her ‘ta-at’ (i.e. obeisance) to her husband, whose satisfaction of his physical needs, if she refused or failed to deliver, she would be cursed by all the angels in heaven all through the night; and whose duties to her husband would not in fact be fulfilled by her even if she licked all his wounds oozing with pus, and that therefore she should immediately come to his bidding and satisfy his demands for intimacy even on the back of a camel. And so on and so forth.

Soon, the same virulent fever would catch up in the island villages as well, where, worse than the poison of rumor and fitna, less educated and illiterate folk, most vulnerable and prone to be struck with fear of the unknown and of the ambiguous, would bow in blind submission. The tahalil and dhikr were considered to be optional, if not, completely written off and so were the late evening ‘rabbana’ sing-and-dance rituals with its lively drum accompaniment. Henceforth there was no longer socialization or unnecessary lingering or public meetings of men and women to be allowed after evening prayers, to avoid falling to temptuous zina. Such that the mosque and everything religious it symbolized have now virtually turned into exclusively male property. Children no longer find the prayers as exciting and playful occasions as we used to look forward to in the past, of the dancing and singing of dhikr , of the warm family bonding and especially of the snacks and refreshments. And since grandmothers, mothers and sisters no longer walked to the masjid, the children, too, stayed home and stopped tailing adults and left them and their prayers alone. Soon, new idols and baby-sitters took on where the swirling rabbana dancing and singing and communal merriment have left, television and video games, like the pied pipers, have come to lure and enchant the children.

By the late 1990’s especially when the local social movement led by the Moro nationalists have forged peace with the State and were given the chance to run ‘our own’ form of autonomous governance, more and more women of my generation became active part of civil society, of public life and of politics. Now having replaced our mothers as community adults, most of us have been educated and moved into up-class and affluent villages in the cities and, there, started taking to the hijab as official attire for the elite, educated and the cultured and, mostly following the dresscode of women of Iran, Pakistan or Malaysian, we favored the shawwal ghamis and long dressy gowns and folded away our mothers’ kantiyu, badjuh sigpit and sablay. Many of the modern women would have never distinguished an imported batik cloth from the locally loamed hinablun or tinen-nun and tinahi-an and having lost the classic aesthetic sense, would not know on which side of the hip should the sarong’s punsa’ be oriented, nor would they even care a sliver. And still many would boast with pride of this ignorance of the past and of having rid off of cumbersome tradition as a fact of imbibing modern virtue and a sign of having moved up-stairs into civilization and having been ‘fully islamized’. Instead, as modern women we would invest on the new and foreign wardrobe, not a few of us wore the new dresses under a black ‘abaya’, with dark globes and black socks, drew the veils closer over the face, letting out only an eye or both eyes through a hole or a slit, as though to drown it in the dark shroud was to kill and annihilate the flesh and body that was so much dreaded and hated for its sinful beauty and sensuality.

But the older women in my village, mostly of my mother’s generation, who by now have become the octogenarians, continued to let out and left drying in the breeze their long cocomilk-groomed hair that had thinned but not grayed, and in public gatherings wore only the loose conventional turong of ho’s or sulban, as prescribed for the hadja, the way Omboh Dindu’, Omboh Saning and Omboh Ua’ and the rest of the grannies from the islands used to do.

On auspicious dates and social occasion, we took the opportunity to visit and renew ties with the folk, but with the prohibitive cost of journeying to the islands and the risk of being caught on the road in the raging conflict, less elaborate ceremonies have been mostly preferred and conveniently conducted in ‘instant and quickie’ rituals in private homes in migrant communities called ‘subdivision’ in the cities. Seated around cushioned sofa and cozy living rooms where a large LCD flatscreen TV took most of the space, we sometimes listened with half an ear to the droning sound of a duwa’a dryly mumbled by an imam,  while one ear and eyes are transfixed to the television noontime show. Thereafter, McDonald crispy fried chicken and bland cold sandwiches were drowned with Coca Cola. Such poor replacements, I declare, to the sumptuous panya’m , baulu and  ja’, and the scalding native black brew, kahawa. Where memories of these happy reunions were now recorded in compact disks and spun around the globe faster than the speed of sound through the internet, instantly made available to share with relatives abroad while still sitting in the convenience of your living room; the fancy bakery killer confections and inflated cakes laden with poisonous bromate and artificial sugar have arrogantly substituted the mounds of medicinal yet delicious turmeric coconut steamed rice or buwas kuning perfectly molded into a sampul or the sticky wajit naturally sweetened with honey that was manually extracted from sugarcane and laced in thick coconut milk – such loving preparations concocted by the same women now cheerfully chatting by the dirty kitchen.

Nonetheless, the solemnity and sacredness of these rare occasions seemed to have remained extant and hoping to linger on for as long as there were still daughters who pledged to a’ngentan [i.e. hold on]. In one such occasion, I and my sisters, who had come home for a vacation from their employment in the Middle East, would instinctively and self-consciously remove our tarha or hijab following the older women’s cue in an almost silent tableau of re-initiation, re-admission and re-unification with the mother coven. To insist on wearing the veil would have made us stand out like sore thumbs and made us feel like outsiders, for we were in supposed intimate spaces where, as once missing pieces of jigzaw among our folk and now back among our women, it was the same homing instinct that confirmed to us once again that we belonged to that almost forgotten village, was nurtured in its rustic traditions and had sprung from to the loving wombs of the matriarchs.  [14April2010 for Inah, on her 78th birthday]

NASHIZA SPEAKS: Mad scientist

Mad Scientist

Surah Al Qalam (The Pen)

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

NUN. By the pen and by the Record which (men) write

Thou art not, by the grace of thy Lord, mad or possessed.

Nay, verily for thee is a reward unfailing.

And thou  (standest) on an exalted standard of character.

Soon will thou see and they will see

Which of you is afflicted with madness.

-from: The meaning of the Glorious Qur’an S. LXVIII: 1-6 (Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)-

Mad is what people usually call one whose standards are different from their own.

Sayantis dupang or mad scientist. This is what my (Sama) people would call s/he who digresses from the norm, like an educated who does not listen to the lure of petro-dollar and the States, instead chooses the road less traveled and work in the slums or the provinces. My folk called me Sayantis dupang when I decided to quit techie-course in Chemistry and majored in street-education. But the sayantis dupang is precisely what the verse above is addressing itself to. The mad scientist and his project of educating the ignorant, was the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) himself. This verse, being one of the early Meccan surahs, was revealed at a time when the Prophet of Islam was most unpopular and detested by the powers-that- be and attacked by the mainstream thinkers – including those from his own Qurayish clan – whose status of power and control drew strength from peoples’ blind obedience and ignorance. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) talked about the oneness of God, raised the dignity of the oppressed and  taught of equality and social justice. He was branded a madman. Why, the madman dignified the slaves (i.e. he appointed a Bilal ‘one who calls to prayer’ from amongst the black Afrikaan slaves)! He gave equal status to men and women when he endorsed the Ummu’l Kitab – Mother of the Books – of what is believed to be the original manuscript of the Holy Qur’an, to Ummu Salama, one of his widowed wives, a significant gesture and symbol of what is to be the role of Muslim women and mothers, and how they should be known in history — in an ideal society, that is — as educators and formators of the young! Such was unthinkable, even anarchic or ‘terroristic’ (to borrow the more contemporary term), in that era of the empires and slave-hoarders, when female offsprings were buried alive. But the sayantis dupang won’t be contented ‘to practice’ within the comfort zones

Nashiza Speaks: On Anger

From Imam Ghazali’s book “Ihyaa Uloom ad Deen”
Know, O dear readers, that the medecine of a disease is to remove the root cause of that disease. Isa (Jesus Christ) -peace be upon him- was once asked: “What thing is difficult?” He said: “God’s wrath.” Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist) -peace be upon him- then asked: “What thing takes near the wrath of God?” He said:”Anger”. Yahya – peace be upon him- asked him:”What thing grows and increases anger?” Isa -peace be upon him- said:”Pride, prestige, hope for honour and haughtiness”

The causes which cause anger to grow are self-conceit, self-praise, jests and ridicule, argument, treachery, too much greed for too much wealth and name and fame. If these evils are united in a person, his conduct becomes bad and he cannot escape anger.

So these things should be removed by their opposites. Self-praise is to be removed by modesty. Pride is to be removed by one’s own origin and birth, greed is to be removed by remaining satisfied with necessary things, and miserliness by charity.

The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “A strong man is not he who defeats his adversary by wrestling, but a strong man is he who controls himself at the time of anger.”

We are describing below the medecines of anger after one gets angry. The medecine is a mixture of knowledge and action. The medecine based on knowledge is of six kinds:

(1) The first medecine of knowledge is to think over the rewards of appeasing anger, that have come from the verses of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Your hope for getting rewards of appeasing anger will restrain you from taking revenge.

(2) The second kind of medecine based on knowledge is to fear the punishment of God and to think that the punishment of God upon me is greater than my punishment upon him. If I take revenge upon this man for anger, God will take revenge upon me on the Judgement Day.

(3) The third kind of medecine of anger based on knowledge is to take precaution about punishment of enemity and revenge on himself. You feel joy in having your enemy in your presence in his sorrows, You yourself are not free from that danger. You will fear that your enemy might take revenge against you in this world and in the next.

(4) Another kind of medecine based on knowledge is to think about the ugly  face of the angry man, which is just like that of the ferocious beast. He who appeases anger looks like a sober and learned man.

(5) The fifth kind of medecine based on knowledgeis to think that the devil will advise by saying: ” You will be weak if you do not get angry!” Do not listen to him!

(6) The sixth reason is to think: ” What reason have I got to get angry? What Allah wishes has occured!”

Medicine based on action

When you get angry, say: I seek refuge in God from the accursed evil (A’oudhou billaahi min as shaytaan ir rajeem). The prophet (pbuh) ordered us to say thus.

When Ayesha (RA) got angry, he dragged her by the nose and said: ” O dear Ayesha, say: O God, you are the Lord of my prophet Muhammad, forgive my sins and remove the anger from my heart and save me from misguidance.”

If anger does not go by this means, you will sit down if you are standing, lie down if you are sitting, and come near to earth, as you have been created of earth. Thus make yourself calm like the earth. The cause of wrath is heat and its opposite is to lie down on the ground and to make the body calm and cool.

The prophet (pbuh) said: Anger is a burning coal. Don’t you see your eyebrows wide and eyes reddish? So when one of you feels angry, let him sit down if standing, and lie down if sitting.

If still anger does not stop, make ablution with cold water or take a bath, as fire cannot be extinguished without water.

The prophet (pbuh) said : ” When one of you gets angry, let him make ablution with water as anger arises out of fire.” In another narration, he said:” Anger comes from the devil and the devil is made of fire.”

Hazrat Ali (RA) said:
The prophet did not get angry for any action of the world. When any true matter charmed him, nobody knew it and nobody got up to take revenge for his anger. HE GOT ANGRY ONLY FOR TRUTH.

*found posted in:


DeMISTYfied in Djogja

Malam Panjang: Long Nights in Djogja

On arriving in the esteemed royal city of Yogyakarta (Daera Istemawa di Yogyakarta) in Indonesia, my first impression was that of ‘coming home’ to barely remembered past hovering among the ghostly cobwebs of childhood memory. Yogya’s  Jalan Kaliurang (Jakal), a modern thoroughfare transecting the city from north to south runs straight along three almost perfectly aligned mystical nodal points: the active volcanic beauty of Mt. Merapi as prominent landmark to the north; the Kraton palatial domain of power of reigning Sultan Hamengkubawana X comprising the midpoint; and, southward, leading to the open seas, is Parangtritis beach where Nya’i Ratu Kidul, Yogya’s mythical godmother and goddess of the South seas, is believed to dwell.

Heightened by the nostalgic appeal of its mystical nature, experiencing Yogyakarta and taking part in its social milieu has seemed like a home-coming to sounds, smell and ambience that are at once warm and familiar that somehow tells me my homeland and homesea in Sulu (south-western Mindanao) must have been distantly related, or perhaps metaphysically interconnected, with this dominantly Javanese abode in the ‘land below the winds’. And as I would soon happily discover, glimpses of this long-ago connection were still extant in a vanishing language and fast transforming culture.

Spanning at least a kilometer down the length of the highway of Jakal is a vast block of buildings housing various faculties of the famous Gajah Madah University where in its Pascasarjana (Graduate School) I attend a post-graduate program in Inter-religious studies. In the evening, the university belt blooms into life with a motley assortments of ‘toko-toko’ and ‘waroeng-waroeng’- shops and stalls – that offer all sorts of foods, light snacks on short order, fresh fruit juices, coffee and tea – mentionable among which, that I am sure my Filipino compatriots would be curious to try, is ‘teh botol’, bottled uncarbonated jasmine tea. All these can be had inside the make-shift structures that are instantly erected there ‘just for the night’ which is every night. Diners – mostly young professionals and students – sit squatting on reed or plastic straw mats and enjoy their ‘makanan malam’, the evening fare, eating with bare-hands while ever watchful of the early evening traffic of mostly single motorbikes and recent models of SUVs building up. Incredibly, this happens daily, rain or star-shine.

Along Jakal kilometer 5, mercilessly pushing nervous pedestrians to gingerly navigate the ‘devil and deep blue sea’ as forced to choose between muddy canal and the deadly highway where motorbikes roar and refuse to give way, these tarpaulin-canopied shops precariously balanced along the narrow sidewalk occupying every available parking space, and there, squeezed in-between HP (pronounced as ‘Ha-Pe’ for ‘hand-phone’) ‘pulsa’ (Filipinos simply say “load”) reloading and benzene fuel refilling stations, they cheerfully competed for attention mingling with laundry shops, electronic and IT stores, videos and movie compact disk sales and rentals, motor-parts supply and repairs, jilbab and hand-gloves boutiques, ‘juwal murah’ thrift shops of surplus items and used-clothings, and various other retailers of fancy goods of sweets and spicy snacks peddled in ambulant stalls and carts: martabak, rujak, bakso, krepes, gudeg, sate, boiled corn and bananas, steamed peanuts and green beans, and yes, toasted bread (roti bakar), hamburgers, hotdogs, and bak pao that sometimes opened onto the wee hours.

It would be in these ‘waroeng makanan’ (foodshops) and ‘toko’ thriftshops that I mostly learned and acquired my crude and functional bahasa. Although much regretfully, a year after to this day, my bahasa has remained ‘sirikit sadja’ (very little) and ‘tidak bagus’ (not refined). My passport and convenient opening spiels would, of course, be always an unembarrassed script of: ‘Maaf, ibuh/bapak, saya tidak bihasa bicara…dari Filipin’ (my apologies, madam/sir, I do not speak much [bahasa]…I am from the Philippines)  that almost always got the friendly ‘Oh…ya!’ sympathetic nod of understanding and a welcome that was followed by typical ‘how’s-the-weather’ questions such as where I lived in Manila, and requests that would I please say some Tagalog (that is musically said as to sound like “Taga Log”) that sometimes turn me slightly irate to curtly declare that I am from Mindanao and a  Moro. On really interesting occasions, that sometimes almost got their interest that “Oh…Ya!” would then be followed by less impersonal and more eager questions about Mindanao and how the Muslims there behaved or what they ate. On lucky days, I would encounter a more engaged audience that would indulge me with interesting gushes: hushed question about Abu Sayaf; Imelda Marcos and her fabulous collection of shoes; the infamous Philippine typhoons; and, yes, popular among the youngsters, Christian Bautista (young Filipino singer presently doing a movie in Jakarta). Otherwise, for the shopkeepers – old ‘ibuh’ or ‘bapak’, or young ‘mas’ or blushing ‘mbak’, I generally was just one of those mundane uninteresting ‘bule’ who was made even less interesting because I looked ‘just like us’ with my dark eyes, brown skin, turong and long loose blouse. At best, they might find in me a useful opportunity to test their proficiency in English. Notwithstanding those, the sure supply of kindly encouragement and gentle coaching from my friends and kost (boardinghouse)-mates from Sulawesi: mbak Ria, mbak Lia, mbak Tetenk and mbak Ani – constantly boosted my confidence that I could finish a generous bowl of richly spiced (or should I say, ‘spiked’, and I’d seriously translate this as ‘really hot’) soto – another famed socializing food here – and could still as cheerfully accept another serving, and make myself at home for the rest of the school term.

The bits and pieces of words and phrases I barely made-out and picked are those that clicked into what I meant to be that interconnection through sound and smell with home. Along Jalan Kaliurang, one of the more abundant snack-stalls would be the ‘gorengan’. The chunky fritters are famous street-food of vegetables, rootcrops and fruits generously spiced and fried deep in coconut oil as gorengan pisang (banana), singkong (cassava), ube (sweet potato), and, Indonesians’ chief source of protein, soya (i.e. gorengan tempe or tahu). A yummy special is an all-veggie recipe called gorengan sayur,  a potpourri of crunchy leaves (usually cabbage and spinach) mixed, salad-style, with thin stripped carrots and jalapenos. Peppered with fragrant spices and smeared in sticky flour and rolled into patties or neatly wrapped in thin dough, these are dropped into the sizzling oil and fished out as soon as one side turns a golden blush. This particular last piece reminds me of our Filipino ‘lumpia’ (with or without the wraps) and ‘ukoy’ and is especially taken with a bite of ‘pedas’, fresh chilli pepper, that Indonesians must be proudly notorious about.

The infinitive ‘menggoreng’ (to fry with oil) sounds near to our ‘ag-guling’, noting that the Sinama (language of ethnic Sama of Sulu) usually replaces r’s for l’s. Interestingly, these fritters for the Sama people are called ‘juwalan’ which then brings another connection between sinama and bahasa in ‘juwal’, meaning to sell, and of ‘juwalan’, goods, a place of goods or simply “store”. Incidentally, as in bahasa, the Sama also say ‘barang-barang’ (assorted things), ‘bungkus’ ( cover or wrap the food ’to go’ or take home), ‘halgah’ (cost or costly) and generally count the way Indonesians do: issa (satu), duwa (duwa), t’llu (tiga), m’pat (mpat), lima (lima), n’nom (nam), hatus (ratus), ibu (ribu). We also have the same words for house (rumah/lumah), sea (laut), land (tanah), village (kampong), fire (api), dance (joget), read (batcha/baca), hand (tangan), out (luwah/luwar), leader (penghulo/panglima),and so on. Although, I sometimes find myself ‘hang’ (as it means in computer-lingo) confused in connecting some words, like ‘rambut’ for hair since we say ‘buun’ in Sinama or ‘buhok’ in Filipino, except perhaps if I visualize ‘rambutan’, that hairy fruit that Davao city is famous for, or, subliminally connect this to silky soft hair that we say, ‘buhok na malambot’ (Fil.) which makes sense anyway since I usually encounter the word in television shampoo commercials! Of course, there are more of these words that must have become confused in the process of translation: pisang for banana (bahasa) is pineapple (sinama); bunga for flower (bahasa) is fruit (sinama), etcetera.

There are yet many other words and terms that Bahasa and Sinama share in common. For instance, ‘malam’ is evening in bahasa and usually said in Sinama to modify Friday as in ‘malam jumaat’, that,  in lunar calendar, is the eve of Friday and in Gregorian calendar is Thursday evening – is held to be most spiritually auspicious night of the week, such that where Indonesians say ‘malam panjang’ literally as “long night” to mean chronologically that ‘time’ spanning from magrib (sundown) and lasting until fajar (sunrise) the Sama take this to be “deep” formal and orthodox term mostly referring to psychological time, or the ‘space of experience’ of special nights associated with traditional and socio-religious observances.

Today, there is still considerable number of my clan, mostly of senior members, (and in fact, I could say generally, of the Sama people of Sulu) remaining traditional and continually maintaining what modern Muslims sometimes pejoratively call ‘folk’ Islam, which is a synthesis of indigenous monistic and Islamic theistic beliefs that the first sufi teachers must have brought to our shores in the 10th century CE (common era). While concretely manifest in their observance of universal pillars of Muslim faith (i.e. oral declaration of the One-ness of God, five-times-prayer, ritual cleansing of wealth through sharing and offering  of the ‘poor’s due’, performing pilgrimage to Makkah, fasting during Ramadhan, and the system of beliefs including belief in Allah, the Holy books and the prophets, belief in the angels and jinns, and in the last day of judgment), this so-called religion of ‘folk’, alongside, also has elaborated islamically-harmonized rituals of ancestral reverence. Whereas ancestral reverence was generally a form of myth and rituals of our forebears long before history, in contemporary times, these rituals have in time accreted and accommodated into Islamic beliefs that many Sama communities would observe this in its synthesized form  as commemoration of the silsilah/salsila where one’s clan and progeny is constantly reminded to link back to the house of the quranic/historic prophets, to the local saints and the holy progenitors of Muslims and to Islamic teachers.

In ritual observances called ag-maulud, these are celebrated coinciding with Muslim maulid/eid and are beheld as ’long nights’ such as the nights of the month of puasa (Ramadhan), the eves of eid where offertory and commemorative festivities are held i.e. amon jaded, birth of the prophet, nisfu shaban, isra wal mi’raj, feast of shura, eidul fitri, eidul adha, among others. More traditional and indigenous Sama Dilaut of Sulu (ethnically akin to orang bajo in Indonesia), have these Muslim calendrical observances integrated into traditional auspicious days such as the premier days of harvest of grains, corn, banana or major food-crop; the waning and waxing of the moon; the full moon; and ‘musim’ (monsoon). Interestingly, secular yet social matters such as ‘ag-hinang’ (lit. ‘event’ or prayer) for the dear departed (janazah), ‘ag-jaga’ or vigils accompanying labor of an expectant mother or awaiting the birth of a new baby,  and ‘ag-libuhan’ pre-nuptial and post-wedding rituals  are conducted into the long nights, also beheld as malam panjang.

Indeed, much of bahasa-derivative words may already be lost or else considered ‘old’ by today’s modern standards and no longer colloquial as to be comfortable for use in ordinary conversations. Besides, most of us of the younger generation would have already been ‘born to’ to modern and purist Muslim religion hence preferring to be called mainstream Muslims that looks upon the Arabist rather than Melayu cultural expressions as manifest forms of our faith. Many of us believe that to be true Muslim is to have conveniently rid ourselves of ancestral reverence and its attendant ‘fancy rituals’ that many would now denounce as ‘shirk’ (idolatry) or regard social celebrations such as ag-hinang and ag-maulud as frivolities, if not islamically censured as ‘bid’a’ or innovations. Consequentially, on the other extreme, many among the young ones would not be familiar anymore as it has long replaced with the Filipino or western counterpart such traditional concepts as ‘malam panjang’ that in modern consumerist capitalistic contexts would now translate to this generation’s notion of long nights as ‘Sabado nights’ (from Spanish-Tagalog ‘Sabado’ or Saturday) or to its more west-oriented version of TGIF (“Thank God It’s Friday”) nights  which many yuppies (young professionals) would look forward to in long fun-filled evenings of ‘gimmick’, of “bottomless” fun and of “seamless” good-time, promenading and dancing, shopping and socializing, that commercially-driven new generation paradoxically consider a form of rest- and-recreation and a respite from a week’s hard work.

Mucha Quiling Arquiza

11 November 2010, Jakal 4.5, Yogyakarta

*This and other articles on my life in Yogyakarta are also found in Mindanawon Abroad section of Mindanews.com/